Review: Red Mars

Or how I remembered that good science fiction has in fact been written after the 60s and 70s.

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Apart from The Ship of Fools which I read earlier this year, this is the most contemporary sci-fi novel I’ve read in over 4 years. I’ve spent the last three summer devoting my time to become better versed in science fiction. A lot of this meant I was reading the classics and my dad’s favorites from his college days. So I have a huge gap in my knowledge of books written after the 70s. Red Mars was on many top science fiction of all time lists, so I decided to give it a try.

It was amazing.

I mean it took me awhile to read because I was reading it during the semester. I did not have a lot of free time and the book requires a decent amount of concentration, so it wasn’t until my classes ended that I really progressed in it. But had I started it in the summer itwould have taken a fraction of the time.

Well either way, it was a really great book. What I liked about it most was how it presented the debates about terraforming. One whole section of the book is devoted to arguing whether or not we have the right to do it. Is it our duty to preserve what we have found? Or do we have an obligation to the people who live on the planet to do everything in our power to make it a more hospitable environment? If we do terraform do we stop only once Mars has become like Earth, or do we do the bare minimum to make life more bearable? The first 100 colonists on Mars are all scientists and they are not in agreement over what should be done about the future of the planet. They argue and manipulate the politics of the situation in a way that is fascinating to follow. It really reminded me of the way that Heinlein includes larger questions of philosophy and politics in his work. (Which is a huge compliment from me because Heinlein is my favorite author.) This book raises interesting questions about our relationship with land. How much is it ours to mold and form, or how much are we its?

The one way Robinson lost me, which is a bit of an overstatement I just didn’t love this aspect as much as others, was after the decision about terraforming. There was a period that lugged on a bit, where it was quite clear that the world was on the brink of a revolution. It just took a little long getting there. I also personally was not as drawn into the revolution as I was the earlier debates. Also the fact that each section was told from a different point of view worked to varying degrees of success. Certain characters slogged on because I did not care about them, while others I was sad to see end.

All in all I really enjoyed this book. It had a great structure and raised interesting questions and I really enjoy the way Robinson writes. And like I said earlier, it reminded me that I do need to work on filling in my gap of contemporary sci-fi. Which is my goal for this summer. Instead of focusing on the Golden Age of science fiction, I am going to be reading books written in my lifetime. So the last 20 years or so. I am starting with Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey, and I have a few others on my list I want to check out. Like John Scalzi’s Redshirts when it comes out.

(As always, I am open to recommendations. Drop them in the comments.)


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One response to “Review: Red Mars”

  1. Max says :

    Charles Stross is great. I’m not going to spoil it, just read.

    The Atrocity Archives are pretty good- it’s like if a stereotypical computer nerd started working for James Bond’s MI6 except they’re fighting Cthulhu.

    Singularity Sky, Iron Sunrise, and Acclerando are also pretty good if you like your scifi really out-there. The first two come in a series, but Accelerando is a stand-alone. Accelerando starts in contemporary Earth and ends post-singularity, while Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise are more post-singularity space opera.

    Apparently his other stuff is really good but that’s all I’ve ever read.

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